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Lance Cpl. Mark Haegele, combat engineer, 3rd Platoon, Company C, 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, enjoys a laugh with Richard Gustafson, the father of Lance Cpl. Alex Gustafson, also a combat engineer with 3rd Platoon. Haegele and two other injured Marines with the platoon returned from a combat deployment to Afghanistan early due to their injuries, but their wounds would not stop them from being there to welcome the rest of their brothers home.

Photo by Pfc. James Frazer

Wounded warriors welcome brothers home

19 Sep 2011 | Pfc. James Frazer

For many Marines one of the best parts of a deployment is the trip back home. The Marines of 3rd Platoon, Company C, 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, eager to see their loved ones, were finally on the bus ride home.

During the deployment, 3rd Platoon was attached to 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd MarDiv. The combat engineers joined up with the infantry battalion in order to carry out mobility and counter mobility operations such as mine sweeping, improvised explosive device detection and constructing patrol bases and fortified positions for the Afghan National Army.

While most of 3rd Platoon’s Marines were riding on the bus to the battalion command post to see their families, three combat engineers with the platoon patiently waited at one of the last intersections the bus would pass on its way. All three of them had returned to the US early from the platoon’s seven-month deployment to Afghanistan, after being injured during combat operations.

The homecoming Marines were excited to see their fellow engineers for the first time after several months. Many of them rushed to greet their injured brothers as they made their way onto the bus before the platoon completed the trip to the waiting families.

“It was incredible getting to see them again,” said Lance Cpl. Mark Haegele, an engineer with the platoon and a double amputee. “Engineers are really just one big family and it was tough not seeing them for such a long time. I love every one of these guys, especially since it wasn’t just the [corpsmen] that saved my life the day I got hit with an IED, but also all of my fellow Marines who helped get me back home safely and have been supporting me even while on deployment.”

After several joyous minutes of reconnecting with one another, the atmosphere in the bus changed to excited tension as the bus made its final turn into the command post parking lot. All of the Marines watched quietly through the bus windows, returning the stares of the families who waited diligently.

At last, the bus driver engaged the parking brakes and the bus door opened. There was silence from everybody until the first of the Marines set his boot on the asphalt ground. Within seconds, the crowd burst into applause and cries as friends, families and loved ones called out to familiar faces.

“I was getting choked up just waiting, knowing I was going to see my son soon,” said Richard Gustafson, the father of Lance Cpl. Alex Gustafson, a combat engineer with 3rd platoon. “It was overwhelming. I’m proud of all of these Marines because I know they all did a fantastic job while serving their country and helping protect each other.”

Though many of the engineers describe their weeks in Afghanistan as the same thing day after day, they also recognize every IED foun d and patrol base constructed as a victory for the Marines.

“Watching these Marines perform in country was a privilege,” said 1st Sgt. Bobby Frazier, company first sergeant. “It was sometimes difficult to keep up with these guys as they did their work every day without fail. Even after losing some of their brothers or getting injured, they refused to allow the enemy to affect them and worked diligently to support the infantry unit they were attached to.”

While the Marines with 3rd Platoon were able to spend the remainder of the day with their families, they decided to wait with 1st Platoon for the rest of 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion to return from Afghanistan before they will take leave.

“It’s kind of cheesy sometimes, but these Marines really see each other as family,” said Frazier. “I think, if there was ever a book we used to teach future recruits about how to be a Marine, there should be a chapter in that book devoted to these Marines. They’re incredible.”